Whether you rise before dawn to crush your fitness goals or fit in a sweat session in the afternoon or evening, the best time to work out depends on a lot of factors. And science has a say as well, it turns out.
A recent study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, examined the effects of morning and nighttime exercise in mice that ran on tiny treadmills (no touchscreen, we’re told). When the mice hit the treadmill in the mornings, their bodies relied on fat rather than blood sugar to fuel their runs. By contrast, the mice running at night tapped their blood sugar, not their fat. No one yet knows, however, if the same holds true in humans.
While researchers explore this, one thing isn’t in doubt: Any time that you can exercise is a good time to do it. So we asked Peloton instructor Andy Speer to share some expert advice on how to help you find the best workout time for you: morning, midday, or night.
Rise and Shine (with Sweat)
There are benefits to starting the day with a workout, even if you sometimes need to hit snooze a couple times before you’re ready.
“Training in the morning pumps blood to your brain, releases endorphins, and excites your nervous system,” explains Andy. “All are great side effects to spur creativity, build confidence, and increase your energy throughout the day.” Particularly right after a workout, “you have an immediate feeling of achievement,” he adds. “When you knock out a challenging workout, your mental state is set to take on the day’s challenges.”
So how do you motivate yourself in the morning? Andy suggests creating the habit with small, gradual changes. “Forcing yourself to wake up early will eventually lead you to get to sleep earlier. It may take a few days, but it will happen,” he says. “Start with easy morning workouts, routines you are familiar with and that are not too intense, and change one major variable at a time. Once you feel better about getting up and working out early, then add intensity and variety.”
Break From the Midday Madness
While some people prefer a more leisurely lunch hour, others find a midday workout helps reset their brains—and gets them ready to power through the mid-afternoon doldrums. The trick, of course, is clearing your schedule—and also having enough energy.
That’s why Andy recommends you make sure to be well fueled and hydrated, as it’s easy to forget to eat or drink during the workday. But it’s also important to make sure you aren’t exhausted well before you clock out—so don’t push too hard too often. “Plan your highest-effort days once or twice per week; the other days focus on quality and technique,” Andy explains. “Weights and moderate cardio tend to be less draining than HIIT classes.”
Be sure to warm up, too—even if it’s just for five minutes, especially if you’ve been sitting all morning. You need to get your mind ready too.
“Treat your workout time like a meeting,” Andy says. “Block the time out the same way. Also, don’t judge yourself negatively if work thoughts flow in and out of your mind. Let the magic of the workout positively affect your thoughts. Don’t fight it!”
If evening workouts are when you are most motivated (or just when you know that you can make the time), ensure that you’re stretching sufficiently after every workout to avoid morning stiffness, and also be conscious of the recovery time between your workouts. “Doing an intense evening workout followed by an intense morning workout may not be ideal for recovery,” says Andy. “If you have to, extend the warmup in the morning session. Keep the intensity high, but shorten the actual workout.”
Then, of course, there’s the challenge of winding down; night exercise can lead to difficulties falling asleep. “Working out is waking up your nervous system,” says Andy. “It turns on your sympathetic system (fight or flight), [so] your body is still waiting to do the next sprint or pushup.”
To avoid tossing and turning, “Take 15 minutes to stretch, breath, or do an easy yoga flow,” Andy says. “The point is to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system to rest and recover. Finishing a hard workout, showering, and going right to sleep without cooling down is not ideal.”
Just Get it Done
No matter what, focusing on your body’s preferences and scheduling your training based on when you have the most energy and time is essential. And when you’re crunched for time, Andy has a simple strategy to maximize the time and energy you do have.
“Do the most important element either first or when you feel the best. If you are more likely to skip running at night, then put it in the morning and lift at night, or vice versa. Bottom line, make your training work within your routine.”
—By Eric Arnold
Whenever you’re ready to workout, you can find the perfect class on the Peloton App.